By Virginia K. Smith
Business beefs are nothing new in New York, a city where even the dollar slice game is so competitive that we’ve witnessed rival shops undercutting each others’ prices until everyone involved nearly went out of business.
Things get especially heated when a big chain is moving in and threatening the livelihood of smaller local shops. Presumably we’ve all seen “You’ve Got Mail,” but this stuff happens in the real world too, and sometimes with less depressing outcomes than a movie where a Barnes & Noble stand-in crushes a beloved Upper West Side children’s book shop into oblivion.
East Village residents managed to drive out a St. Mark’s 7/11 back in 2013, for instance, and after initial concerns when a Trader Joe’s opened kitty corner from longtime Atlantic Avenue staple Sahadi’s, the Middle Eastern market is still going strong more than a decade later.
All of which is to say, when we saw rumblings on TikTok about a potential dust-up between beloved Flatiron kitchenware store Fishs Eddy and it’s new across-the-street neighbor Crate & Barrel, we were intrigued, if not surprised:
For the uninitiated, Fishs Eddy has been a mainstay at the corner of 19th and Broadway for more than three decades, curating a collection of locally-made kitchenware (including many of their own designs) alongside art pieces, custom pet portraits, and assorted New York-y paraphernalia; current offerings include their famous “Good Morning Asshole” mug, a “Bridge & Tunnel” dish towel, and a print of a go-go dancer being tipped in his underwear with a MetroCard, to give you a sense of the vibe. They also maintain an on-site “secret museum” with a collection of older, more historic city artifacts.
Point is, the place is a fiercely beloved and hyper-local New York institution, the spiritual opposite of a Crate & Barrel, though you can buy stuff like forks and plain water glasses at both, too.
The initial back and forth included a sign in the Fishs Eddy window that read, “60% off everything at Crate & Barrel (kidding).” The shop then promoted its “small business Saturday” deals as “small business next to a really big business Saturday.”
Though the new Crate & Barrel on the block opened in November, owner Julie Gaines noticed “coming soon” signs for the chain’s self-described “Flatiron Flagship” about a year ago.
“I got emotional,” Gaines told The Groove, “Counting all the things we’ve survived — 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, COVID.”
While hopeful that the arrival of a mega-chain across the street would be just another blip on the long term radar, Gaines said, “I was scared. I felt like, there goes our glassware business and there goes our flatware business. And we’d really gone into a hole in COVID, that was the closest we had come to death.”
Improbably, the opposite seems to have happened. “Honestly, [our sales] are up 40%, so we’re not complaining,” Gaines said.
A good amount of shoppers seem to be hitting both stores back to back, Gaines noted.
“We let people park their bags back [behind the counter], and it’s always Crate & Barrel.” (Representatives for Crate & Barrel, which also put up a sign in its window asking to be “friends” with Fishs Eddy, did not respond to a request for comment.)
An almost suspiciously feel-good outcome so far for a fable about a massive chain plopping itself down next door to a longtime city staple, but we’ll take it. And if Sahadi’s is any indication, it wouldn’t be the first time a small city shop managed to not just survive but thrive after a massive national chain moves in next door. If nothing else, it’s a potent reminder that not everything worth having can be ordered up on Amazon or Instacart, and that it is indeed worth getting off our asses to shop in person when we can.
Besides just being excellent places to shop, the small businesses in this city can be as messy and colorful as the actual people, and to that end, we’ll happily take our readers’ questions, stories, suspicions and assorted thoughts about other notable rivalries. If you’ve got intel on stolen signature recipes, price wars, passive aggressive signage or 311 calls, or any other business beef past or present, send it our way at email@example.com. We’re invested in niche drama, needless to say, and we’re also invested in keeping tabs on the places that keep this city from morphing into one big outdoor mall.